School’s out. Education is in.

Jun 8th, 2020

Digital transformation has been shoved upon the education sector at speed. From a casual approach to digitally-driven education environments, schools have been thrust 100% online. Students and educators juggling new ways of learning and finding innovative ways to access online systems and training. It’s been fast and it’s been challenging, but it has created a new foundation for education that has immense potential for the future of education.

However, in South Africa, access to critical resources for online learning is severely limited in many parts of the country, creating a bigger divide between those who have and those who do not. AS balances go, this is not easily or quickly redressed, but there are solutions that can change this landscape over the long term and that can potentially help education institutions overcome the barriers that many learners face.

Of course, these solutions are emerging from the technology sector. Technology is changing the way most industries approach, well, everything, and education is not exempt. In this space, one technology that could help reshape the future of South African education is the micro-computer. It doesn’t come with the bells or the whistles that usually accompany private or high-end school checklists. It isn’t going to play video games or power its way through genome analysis. But it is going to cram a ton of tech and power into a small form factor that’s versatile, efficient and cost-effective.

The micro-computer is easier to install because it’s small. It can fit into a multitude of environments – from school tech labs to homes – and it can be easily transported when the situation demands it. These devices are also designed to use significantly less power than traditional computers. Their power demands are around 10% of the amount usually required from a desktop PC, which is a huge saving in the education environment and for people who can’t afford high electricity bills. This lack of power consumption shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of power, however. Modern micro-computing systems sport quad-core processors and up to 8GB in memory, which is fast enough for access to online education tools as well as for handling many local applications such as Microsoft Office.

Micro-computers also use very robust and speedy solid-state drives (SSDs) that makes them cooler to run, easier to maintain and longer lasting. Most of these systems are designed to be as plug-and-play as possible so that users don’t feel overwhelmed if something goes wrong, and the cost of repairing the devices is low. This low cost is a critical point right now – schools, students and government can’t afford costly technology spend but they need the right tools to ensure education is accessible to all.

Of course, this cost is also reflected in the robustness of these devices. PCs generally don’t appreciate rough handling which means that, in a school full of youngsters, they can often break or be unexpectedly damaged. Micro-computers are solid in design, but they can also be hidden away behind desks or under tables so they’re not bumped or knocked easily. This tiny form factor allows them to be kept safe without compromising on performance or capability.

It’s understandable that schools would be sceptical of micro-computers and their ability to perform the right tasks under pressure. They’re tiny. They do not realistically look like computers that could power through an Excel tutorial or handle a two hour virtual lesson. The truth is that technology itself is shrinking. The giant PC form factor of the past held a variety of components that were just big. These components have become significantly smaller and more efficient which has allowed for the development of a smaller and more efficient computer. It’s also the ideal entry point for any education institution looking to manage its forced digital transformation more realistically.

These computers are as useful in the admin and finance departments as they are in the classrooms, be they virtual on on-premise. They are cheaper to purchase than the standard desktop, but they work with Microsoft products, many of which are free right now in the educational space. This brings the total cost of ownership down even further, and additional costs or requirements can be managed by working closely with a reliable partner that specialises in micro-computers within the sector.

CloudGate has partnered with Microsoft education products to help with bringing the costs down when it comes to software investment. The company has also developed cost-effective solutions specifically designed for education so that investment into micro-computers and the relevant tools the students need is simple and within tight budgets. The company has also focused on one aspect of computing in education that is often missed, or not managed properly – security.

When it comes to education and access to information about students, security is absolutely essential. To resolve this, CloudGate has developed a security cage that can be attached under the desk or against the wall and within which the micro-computer fits snugly. It uses very little space and adds an instant layer of physical protection. This is bolstered by the use of Microsoft security solutions that are embedded within the platforms and that offer immediate online security, protecting both students and school.

Alongside security, cost, form factor and space saving, micro-computers are quick to install. These tiny form factors are easily moved from one location to the next and bulk installations take far less time and effort. The CloudGate devices have no CPU or cooling fans – no moving parts – so they are far more reliable than the traditional PC. Fewer components means fewer fail points and less time spent on maintenance and repairs. Which really does make a difference if some students can’t access online learning tools while their PCs are undergoing repairs or aren’t working.

These benefits highlight just some of the value that a micro-computer can bring into the education realm. They’re right there, ready to fit into any size classroom or educational space and capable of helping schools manage the onrush of digital transformation taking place right now.